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In this week’s press conference, Kansas coach Lance Leipold told reporters that the Jayhawks' Big 12 opener at West Virginia University was a “true evaluation” of where his program stands. “(We’re) a different football team than we were a year ago, for the better,” Leipold added.
Indeed, the Kansas roster looks completely different than the 2021 version. The Jayhawks welcomed 19 transfers during the offseason. In addition to that influx of talent, Kansas had 17 starters return from last season, giving the Jayhawks the most returning players among Big 12 teams.
Will Kansas back up their preseason hype of an improved team? Or will the Mountaineers - fresh off a heartbreaking loss to rival Pitt - unload a week’s worth of frustrations against the Jayhawks in Morgantown?
An improved rushing attack with Devin Neal. Last year’s leading rusher, Neal did not participate against WVU due to an injury. In his first game, Neal collected 108 yards rushing and two TDs, albeit against lowly Tennessee Tech.
Still, Kansas rushed for 297 total and six TDs in their season opener, a strong effort behind an offensive line that returns four starters from 2021.
The Jayhawks have dual-threat Jalon Daniels - who was installed as the starting QB late last year - off to a strong start. Daniels went 15-for-18 through the air, completing passes to eight different receivers en route to a 189-yard performance. Daniels rushed for and passed for a TD in the game, proving Kansas has a competent QB to guide their offense this year.
West Virginia’s front four is perhaps its best defensive line in years. Senior Dante Stills and returning starter Jared Bartlett combined for 12 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, and 3 sacks against the Pittsburgh Panthers. The Mountaineers held Pitt in check on the ground, allowing 76 yards and a mere 1.9 yards per rushing attempt.
With WVU committed to stopping the run, the Panthers were able to move the ball almost at will through the air. The retooled defensive backfield allowed Pitt’s Kedon Slovis to pass for 308 yards on a 67% completion percentage, 1 TD and no interceptions. The Mountaineers gave up almost 20 yards per completion, including two receptions that went for 50 or more yards.
Mountaineer fans were pleased with Georgia transfer JT Daniels helming the offense. Daniels went a respectable 23-of-40 leading the new-look Air Raid offense Graham Harrell installed, throwing 2 TDs in the loss.
Pitt’s defense broke up nine passes, and the lone INT was a catchable ball that sailed through the receiver’s hands. Top target Bryce Ford-Wheaton caught nine balls for 97 yards and both TDs for the Mountaineers.
Surprisingly, the running attack was impressive in West Virginia’s Air Raid offense. Freshman CJ Donaldson slashed through Pitt’s defense for 125 yards and TD on seven carries, and workhorse Tony Mathis Jr ran for 71 yards on 17 handoffs. The retooled offensive line held their own against the Panthers’ defensive front, only allowing three sacks that came on the Mountaineers’ last two possessions.
An improved Kansas defense led by DE Lonnie Phelps. The Miami (Ohio) transfer dominated the outmanned Tennessee Tech offensive line, notching seven tackles and 3 sacks. In total, the Jayhawks recorded 12 TFLs in the game, limiting their opponents to only 190 yards of total offense on the day.
The linebacker corp - Kansas’s projected strength this season - proved to be difference makers as well. Returning starters Rich Miller and Taiwan Berryhill, along with UCF transfer Eriq Gilyard, combined for 14 tackles while holding Tennessee Tech to only 2.0 yards per carry on 43 attempts.
West Virginia should win this game, but the Mountaineers are not 14 points better than Kansas this early in the season. You can expect WVU will come out fired up after losing in the Backyard Brawl, but the Jayhawks are a vastly improved team. Plus, Kansas is 6-2-1 ATS in its last nine games against WVU, and the Jayhawks are 4-1 ATS over the last five games.